In the Pits. Riding High.
In the Pits. Riding High.
Would you take time off from your day job to fly to San Diego, hop in a van to a remote desert location in Baja California, Mexico, and sleep in a tent all day so you can stay up all night changing tires and fueling trucks for strangers in the middle of nowhere?
It’s not for everybody. But for some, it’s the trip they look forward to all year.
That special some is the BFGoodrich® Tires Pit Crew volunteer force. Most of the year, they’re average men and women, living and working in cities around the world. But once a year down in Mexico — gathered to support the notorious SCORE Baja 1000 race — they’re a rare, multi-talented force to be reckoned with.
Mission: Baja 1000
Each year, BFGoodrich Tires calls upon its own roster of skilled technicians to assemble its largest pit support Program. Together, this group helps pull off the off-road racing event of the year: the Baja 1000. To learn more about this epic effort and the mission-critical crews who run it, we sat down with two legendary BFGoodrich Tires Pit Support leaders: Frank D’Angelo and Dan Newsome.
Held once a year in Mexico, the Baja 1000 is the Everest of off-road races. This year’s point-to-point race stretched over 1200 miles down the Baja peninsula, starting in Ensenada and finishing in La Paz. It’s a notorious race for a reason. Baja is rugged, otherworldly, and often deadly. It can tear the wrong driver — or the wrong equipment — to shreds.
Like any other risky adventure, the dangers involved are part of the race’s undeniable draw. Drivers come from all over the world to the arid, mountainous peninsula to try their hand at the Olympic-level task of competing against the world’s toughest racers and harshest landscapes.
To finish the race is a dream shared by many. But it can’t be done alone. From last year’s overall winner to the bright-eyed first-timer, each driver relies on a trusty set of experts to help them stay the course, battle the desert, and, hopefully, cross the finish line.
Who are these experts? Well-established racers have extensive teams including co-drivers, navigators, mechanics, fabricators, chase truck drivers, scorers, and more to support their run. Newer racers will have teams too, but they’re typically smaller and much less experienced.
Filling in the gaps for racers big and small, the BFGoodrich Tires Pit Support Program is available to any racer running BFGoodrich tires. Alongside communications infrastructure and invaluable course maps and information, racers who use the program have access to the full-service BFGoodrich Tires pits located at key positions along the racecourse. The Pit Support Program is present at other off-road races throughout the year, but the Baja 1000 is when it shows up in full force, including over 200 volunteers who break from their day-to-day lives to travel to Baja and help run the action-packed show.
Off-road racing in Baja has always had high barriers to entry. On top of all the driving and on-the-fly repair skills required, you also need time, money, and talented friends. Race vehicles are expensive, and so are spare parts and fuel. You need a chase team to help you finish the race. Having the ability to pre-run the course is essential.
Suffice it to say: Going to Baja to race has always been a big undertaking. But as the space got more competitive in the 70s, the walls around it all got higher, and fewer new racers could chase their Baja dreams by joining the fray and growing the sport.
The BFGoodrich Tires Pit Support Program unofficially began in 1979 to help more drivers make it across the finish line. But as the program grew and opened up to more racers, the extra support offered by the program began to lower those barriers to entry, blazing a trail for new drivers to more safely and economically enter the off-road racing arena.
“Helping people realize their dreams and their passion for competing in and finishing the race was what the pit support program was all about.” – Dan Newsome
When it comes to racing in Baja, the first barrier to entry is simply crossing the border. A week or so working in the middle of nowhere comes with a list of logistical unknowns. Questions like: where do we stay each night? Can we stay together? Where should I put my people along the course? Where can we get food and water? How many spare tires will we need? How much fuel will we need? Where can we store that fuel? Can we source parts? How do we communicate with each other out of the city? What do we do if we get lost?
And finally, ¿hablas inglés?
Especially for less experienced race teams, these small logistical hurdles can turn a dream-chasing run at the race into a complete nightmare. The devil truly is in the details.
“The brutality of the race itself — the difficulty of the course, the length of it, and the long hours of work — that’s where the adventure is, but it’s not necessarily what makes or breaks a team. It’s all the other stuff that slows you down. Logistics are your real foe in the desert. Small, practical issues are what often prevent a team from reaching the finish.” – Dan Newsome
As fast-paced and action-packed as it looks, the Baja 1000 is a methodical undertaking. You have to be the tortoise and hare at once. Even the big, well-oiled teams can get caught up by little things. At this year’s Baja 1000. But even with all those miles, engine trouble forced them to sit still long enough to lose it. Eventually, it forced them to withdraw.
The BFGoodrich Tires Pit Support Program helps race teams figure out dependable answers to those logistical questions so that they can enjoy the event and focus on what truly matters — racing.
Perks, Perks, Perks
Participating in the BFGoodrich Tires Pit Support Program provides an extra layer of safety and insurance during what can be a very chaotic event. It comes with a robust suite of perks, including precise details about the course and all the service roads that may be useful for chase teams, delivered via the iconic BFGoodrich Tires map book. Commonly referred to by racers as the “Baja Bible,” this map book is invaluable not just for drivers but for their entire teams. The “bible” is also distributed in the form of GPS map files.
Additionally, BFGoodrich Tires operates a full-service pit stop every 130 to 150 miles along the racecourse. The pits are centered around a large tractor-trailer. The brush is cleared around the area, and several pit service lanes are marked off.
Next, a camping area is established, along with a kitchen setup, a medic area, and you can’t forget the outhouse. Generators and stadium-style lights keep the place running all day. Finally, an auto shop’s worth of tools and equipment get unloaded just as racers begin to appear.
“It's like a mini city, and it runs 24/7.” – Dan Newsome
Before approaching a pit, a racer will radio ahead through BFG communications with their car number and information about what they need. This way, the pit team is lined up and ready to perform the tasks requested when the vehicle arrives. Together, the crew at any single pit stop have the skills required to fix just about anything that can break or go wrong on a race vehicle. If no significant repairs are necessary, a pit stop can take as few as 45 seconds to complete.
Who you gonna call?
Racers who participate in the BFGoodrich Tires Pit Support Program also gain access to the Relay communications system that BFGoodrich Tires stands up just for the Baja races. To build this network, teams of volunteers camp out on mountaintops with truck-mounted satellites. These high-point camps form a network covering much of the rocky peninsula, which is light on cell towers and full of radiofrequency dark spots.
“If you’re broken down on the racecourse, even if you have a spare part on a pickup truck 70 miles away, that part is no good unless that truck can reach you. The BFGoodrich Tires communications service is often that connection, guiding your chase truck to you. And if you need a tow to a pit, we can arrange for one. That has happened so many times. You couldn't count them.
“We've also had situations where a racer broke down somewhere, and they're going to repair the car, but it's going to take five or six hours. And the driver that was going to get in that car next is waiting at one of our pits. What's he going to do while he waits? We’ll often provide places to sleep and food so that drivers can race when their vehicle is ready.” – Frank D’Angelo
This communications system is a vital resource for the entire pit support program and its participating race teams, especially in times of emergency. It’s a valuable tool and an essential buffer against the worst possible outcomes of racing down in Baja.
“You’re gonna need a crew for this.”
This year, the Baja 1000 required eight pit locations (each run by up to 20 people), plus nine mountaintop communication stations and one central command station keeping track of communications and racers’ unofficial scoring. Altogether, the effort requires over 200 people, most of whom volunteer to make this enormous project happen. Where do you find 200 qualified volunteers for something like this?
Cue the “getting the gang together” sequence. But this one has a twist: the gang comes to you. The pit program is so popular that volunteers submit a resume with their skill set and get matched with a pit if needed. Some might sit on a waiting list for two or three years before getting a call. Volunteers who have tried it once usually apply again. Some have been coming back for decades.
Who are these folks? Passionate off-road fans. They use their vacation time to come down and provide this service. Many work in the industry, maybe lifting Jeeps at a 4X4 shop in the Midwest or selling them on a lot in California. There are office workers as well, who get excited to work with their hands for a week in the desert. It’s truly an adventure, and it’s a great way to get acquainted with the race if you hold hopes of one day competing.
“One pit crew I called my Misfits. It consisted of three tire salesmen from Ireland, two cowboys from Ohio, six Mexican locals, and a couple from Texas. They all got placed together last-minute for an extra pit one year and have volunteered together ever since. They stay connected online during the offseason, too.” – Frank D’Angelo
Volunteers must get to San Diego themselves, and then BFGoodrich Tires takes care of food, lodging, and all expenses from there. Volunteers are given a pit crew-exclusive t-shirt for their service— hard-earned and highly coveted prizes.
“This is a tight-knit and elite group. We had one guy that had been with us for 30-some years, and before he retired, his wife made a quilt out of all his t-shirts. It’s something they cherish. It’s not a wear-to-work shirt. It’s a go-out-to-dinner shirt.” – Frank D’Angelo
In the Pits
A crew of 20 people living and working in the desert together for days requires supplies for work and survival. Along with the gear collected for racers, the crew’s food and water, generators, camping gear, and tools comprise a good portion of the cargo that heads out to each pit. That cargo includes the crew itself, which typically includes the following roles, some of which are filled by a single multi-talented member:
Who’s on a pit crew?
Comms Managers - Cell service is minimal along the peninsula. A satellite radio station would be set up at each pit, connected to Relay, the BFGoodrich Tires Comms System. This network of infrastructure enables race reporting, pit crew communication and offers necessary emergency communication abilities to all race teams if required.
Fuelers - Often solid, burly guys, the fuelers are in charge of moving fuel around, keeping track of supply, and adding fuel to cars during stops. You can tell this group apart thanks to their cool flame-retardant fueling suits.
Fabricators/Mechanics - The goal of any pit crew is to have the ability to fix anything that could break on or in a race car, including bodywork, engine diagnosis, electrical work, welding, fabrication, and more. These talents come from throughout the team, with some members knowing a little bit of it all.
Drivers - Many pits haul supplies in a tractor-trailer, traveling on roads that aren’t always paved or well-maintained. This requires some very skilled commercial truck drivers.
Cooks - A different kind of fueler. The cook keeps the pit team and visiting crews fed 24 hours a day often for multiple days.
Medics - In case of driver or crew injury, someone with medical training is placed on each crew.
Interpreters - Each pit crew has at least one individual who is bi-lingual in Spanish and English.
Pit Leaders - This manager and crew leader keeps track of shifts and supplies; and helps everyone get what they need to support the race. This includes ensuring that all pre-ordered fuel has been delivered to the pit by the respective race fuel companies.
These volunteers, who come from all over the world and from all walks of life, share two things in common: a love of off-roading and a thirst for adventure. It’s true; anything can happen in Baja. And anything does. Along with the prized t-shirts, pit crew volunteers are guaranteed to walk away with some wild stories to tell around their next campfire.
Some pretty wild relationships get built in the pits as well. Out in the desert, your crew becomes your family. Your tribe. Brutal environments have a magical effect on people. As situations edge towards extremes, we’re all suddenly on the same team. Working hand-in-hand and watching out for one another, lifelong bonds are built. A person can go from stranger to ride-or-die in just a few days. And the feeling lasts much longer than that.
“It’s a passionate community, and in many respects, it's a family. Not everybody loves everybody, per se, but nobody's gonna leave anyone else out in the desert. There's a code. And a built-in connection. Offroad racing is our mutual passion. Whether you participate once in a lifetime or a few times a year, you absolutely love it.” – Dan Newsome
No one returns quite the same from their mission down in the Baja pits. And only folks who will ever fully understand are the talented pals who were there right with you the entire way.
It really is the best trip of the year.